Whether you’ve recently received a diagnosis of neurodivergence in your own family or you’re preparing for holiday season, finding the right gifts for neurodiverse children can be tricky… but well worth the effort. When you’re buying for a neurodiverse child, a gift has the potential to mean more than a gift. A fidget spinner might calm anxiety when all else fails; a remote-control model may unlock a social interaction. Even something as simple as silicone beads that a baby with autism can use to develop biting and chewing skills could be a game-changer. I've compiled a list of my faves for this year's holiday season!
Consider Buying a Calming Gift
Kids and teens may often find it difficult to cope with unexpected events, communication challenges, and common sensory experiences. Their sensory threshold can be lower than the general population and daily experiences can be very tiring. Calming and sensory based gifts are often very enjoyable. Some calming gift ideas include vibrating items, soothing visual items such as spiral timers, rhythmic moving motion lamps. A soothing gift is not only enjoyable but can also make life easier for the whole family.
Top on this year's list are sensory tubes. I am obsessed with these! Sensory Fidget Tubes Set encourages children to calm down and learn how to self-soothe when dealing with anxiety- which can help any kiddo , but especially a kiddo that need a calm sensory input.
And of course we love a good sensory bin! Although we often DIY our theme bins from easy dollar store finds, it's great to get a unique sensory bin ready for little hands and imagination play! As we know, sensory play is crucial to brain development! This fun play experience helps to build nerve connections in the brain's pathways that support language development, cognition, social interaction and problem solving skills..again something all kiddos need but especially our neurodiverse kids!
Cause & Effect
As we have learned through our own therapy sessions, there are a lot of ways to show cause and effect. However there are a slew of toys that are designed this way specifically. What is a cause and effect toy? Cause and effect toys teach kids that they have the ability to influence their environment. (They can do something to get a reaction.) For example, if I squeeze the toy it will make a sound, or if I press a button a light will come on. They provide immediate positive feedback. Because they are fun and feature simple repetitive actions, they can turn into a simple turn taking activity. Here are a few of my faves:
The Whack-A-Frog is the perfect interactive toy for both children and adults to enjoy together, competing to see who can get a better score. Improve children’s concentration and hand-eye coordination as they try and get the best score they can keeping track of the flashing frogs.
Or how about some outside play with a soft foam rocket launcher? Keeping the kids away from screen time and the sofa. Ideal for summer outdoor lawn, gardens, yards, parks and even sand beach games.
C&E toys also make great gifts for kids who are difficult to engage with socially. They can open the door for social interaction. By taking turns with the toy, family members are able to enter into an enjoyable shared experience. Mutual interaction, joint attention, and turn taking are foundations for social development.
Fidget toys and stress balls are popular right now & make great stocking stuffers! They make great portable focus helpers that can help manage stress and anxiety. We like fidgets that are durable and quiet. Quiet fidgets work well in the classroom, in a car, or at a restaurant.
A fidget box includes an assortment of fidget toys in bulk. Not only can you play all sorts of games with our figits but these popits, tubes, cubes and stress balls are all pocket sized!
Fine motor skills are so important. We need them to hold a pencil correctly, use a spoon, and get dressed. These skills develop by exercising the small muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists.
Our son is obsessed with Spike. These pegs are a little tricky to get out and require some effort and once he starts, you better not get in his way! He loves playing with the chunky, peg-shaped pieces that fit to the back of this friendly hedgehog- also great occupational therapy!
Another great toy is putty. Yes, I know - it's fancy play-do. But this one is heat-sensitive and color changing putty. It helps develop fine motor skills including eye-hand coordination, gain strength and improve dexterity in hands and fingers. Playing it promotes calmness, stimulates focus and relieves stress, worries, and tensions.
While some individuals may be developmentally delayed and enjoy toys for younger children, it is best when you find gifts that provide the same enjoyable qualities found in a young child's toy, but is developmentally appropriate. We always want to meet these kids where they are at while providing the opportunity for growth. And many neurodivergent kiddos have areas of special interest that would be a great gift- like dinosaurs, space, imagination play or art. If you're buying for someone else's special kid- don't be afraid to ask!
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